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Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Everything was beautiful at the ballet
Topic: Raving
Although it was a little jarring to find that, as the opening bars of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade played, a reel of Gargamel chasing smurfs unspooled in my head. It's a bit alarming, the number of pieces of classical music that are accompanied by animated picture shows in my head - the Smurfs feature heavily, but Disney and Looney Tunes characters make plenty of appearances, as well.

The first act of Scheherazade was the closing section of the Australian Ballet's current program in Melbourne, Revolutions, which features three works by Mikhail Fokine, the Ballet Russes choreographer who helped revitalize ballet in the early twentieth century. The Ballet Russes is credited with invigorating cultural life in Australia during the company's tour of the country from 1936 to 1940, and Revolutions is an early feature of the Australian Ballet's commemoration of the 70th anniversary of that tour.

I'm glad that I did a bit of research before going to the show, and understood some of the historical background, because the traditionally staged Les Sylphides was a bit underwhelming. Lovely, but not inspiring. I found myself watching closely for technique rather than appreciating the work as a whole because I just didn't find it engaging. Le Spectre de la Rose was livelier and more entertaining, with athletic choreography for the male dancer. My favorite piece, though, was the opening scene from Scheherazade, which received an updated staging, with stunning sets and costumes. The music (once I got over the Gargamel thing) is amazing, and was beautifully played by the orchestra.

I assume it's the educational/historical aspect of this program that helped make cheap seats available, and I'm grateful. The last time I went to the ballet in Melbourne, it was the free 'Ballet at the Bowl' concert, and lovely as it was to sit outside with friends for the performance, the dancers were barely visible. It's wonderful, though, to live in a city where even barely visible ballet is available - the absence of a professional dance company was the one thing I found lacking in Baltimore's arts scene. It's a real shame not to have professional dance in a city, because there's something magical about the combination of individual talent and group effort that goes into a dance performance. The unison work required of the corps, the trust partners must have in each other, the skill of the conductor and the orchestra, the work of the crew backstage - it's amazing that one performance, let along multiple ones, go smoothly when you think about how many things have the potential to go wrong. And when it all goes right, it's absolutely stunning.

The history of the Ballet Russes in Australia (and in Europe) demonstrates what a dance company can add to a community. Not only did Fokine's approach to ballet invigorate dance, but there was an incredibly fruitful collaboration between the Ballet Russes and visual artists like Picasso and Matisse and composers like Stravinsky, Ravel and Prokofiev. The Ballet Russes tour of Australia provided an opportunity for the public to interact with all these forms of art than had previously existed. This tradition of artistic collaboration continues: the modern dance I saw during the Arts Festival, because the Stephen Petronio Company has collaborated with contemporary musical artists like Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, as well as visual artists and fashion designers. I'm glad to have had at least a taste of this interaction while I've been here.

3:09 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006 8:15 AM BST

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